Last updated: November 11, 2013
angry baby

Chris discusses Indonesia’s recent run of “air rage” incidents.

While some expats may complain in Indonesia about local passengers’ bad habits on domestic air travel, the author is more disturbed by the seeming frequency of “air rage” incidents, in particular where passengers have hit stewardesses or airport staff.

Zakaria Umar Hadi Suspect M A
Dis-honour Roll: Azlaini Agus, Zakaria Umar Hadi, Suspect MA

Deputy Chief Ombudsman, Azlaini Agus, allegedly slapped a Pekanbaru Airport ground staff member on 29 October 2013, after boarding for her flight was delayed.[1]

This follows two incidents in June. Belitung Regional Investment Coordinating Board chief Zakaria Umar allegedly struck a Sriwijaya Air stewardess with a rolled-up newspaper, after being asked to switch off his mobile phone.[2] Another passenger – known only by his initials MA – on a Malaysia Airlines flight to Medan hit and spat at a female flight attendant, after being asked to return his backrest to the upright position in preparation for landing.[3]

Looking back a little further to 2009, a group of 11 thugs smashed up the Sriwijaya Air ticket office at Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta Airport with tin sticks and samurai swords. A long car chase resulted in 5 arrests and the revelation that they were hired by the relative of an elderly passenger left stranded by the airline.

This is all a little unusual for a country perceived to be friendly, the world’s happiest, a world leader for smiling and polite customer service staff, etc. Many cultures in Indonesia also value controlling one’s emotions, avoiding giving offence and not shaming others.

So what’s going on here?

While one common source of passenger frustration is late departures, airline on-time performance is generally improving, with the worst (Merpati Airlines) meeting the minimum score of 70% for the first time this year. In the case of delays of 4+ hours, Indonesian airlines are now legally required to give financial compensation to affected passengers. This compares well with e.g. China, where less than half of all domestic flights depart on time and there is no compensation.

Azlaini Agus was frustrated by the delayed departure of her flight, but she was unaware that it was not the airline’s fault; Garuda was awaiting clearance from the airport to depart, which was slow coming due to the eruption of nearby Mt Sinabung.

Express Air stewardessStewardesses are always polite and attractive, despite some effort by Sriwijaya Air to change the latter perception. A pretty face generally increases passenger cooperation, not antagonism. (In the author’s opinion, the alleged victims of Azlaini Agus and Zakaria Umar are not unattractive; you can look them up on Google Images, if you wish.)

Curiously, the two June offenders mentioned the way the respective stewardess gave the instruction made them angry/humiliated, seemingly oblivious to the fact that their behaviour was both against the rules and potentially dangerous.

Soeharto, wife and motherAnother aspect of Indonesian culture worth considering here is respect to seniors and elders. Similar to other Asian countries, you basically cannot contradict or point out the perceived mistake of an older person or a work colleague in a more senior position. The picture on the right shows then President Suharto and his wife paying homage to and asking forgiveness from his mother, an annual tradition in Islam.

While we do not know the position of MA, the other two suspects were relatively high-ranking civil servants and may have been suprised/shocked or ashamed that a “lowly” stewardess would cause them displeasure. In Western culture, it could be considered arrogance, but not in Indonesia where it is common/accepted to display one’s wealth and position, and expect the respect of others.

This might also explain why the three perpetrators have all escaped with only a legal slap on the wrist. Then again, it is not unusual in Indonesian legal history for the rich and famous to receive preferential treatment. Similar examples include Tommy Soeharto, Rasyid Amrullah Rajasa and Abdul Qodir Jaelani (son of homophobic polygamous musician Ahmad Dani).

In the meantime, the next time another Indonesian passenger brings excessive cabin baggage, is using his mobile phone in flight, is boarding the plane at the wrong time, doesn’t have his backrest in the correct position, etc, please be careful what you say, especially if you are a stewardess.

One Comment on “Air-tiquette”

  1. Chris says:

    A Garuda Indonesia flight made an emergency landing in Lombok yesterday after:

    one of the passengers who experiences mental illness relapsed in the plane.


    Is that a polite way of saying someone went bananas and had to be kicked off? Or if the passenger has a mental illness, what was he doing on a plane?

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